When did popular culture get so stupid?
It’s an Enquirer world. Yesterday evening I was watching my favorite celebrity cleavage show, “Entertainment Tonight.” There was a story on a 1000-pound man.There’s nothing wrong with celebrity cleavage. There’s nothing wrong with looking at it. Even people in the Bible Belt don’t get busted for enjoying celebrity cleavage. God wants celebrities to have cleavage, and he wants us to look. He approves, it’s his will. But what about this 1000-pound man?This guy had rolls of fat in places that I didn’t know fat could grow. I admit I’m peripherally interested in the subject as I have a few rolls of my own. I’m kind of curious about what might happen next. But I’m afraid I can’t tell you the exact content of the piece because I turned off the sound and shut my eyes. Enough is enough.The images of this guy, if I’d seen them on the cover of a supermarket tabloid, would have suggested a lot of darkroom magic, or today, I guess, Photoshop. I wouldn’t have believed them. I certainly wouldn’t have bought the paper. But there these images were, on Entertainment Tonight, right where images I actually enjoy were supposed to be. Needless to say, I was grossed out.I don’t by any means consider that particular TV show to be a paragon of high culture. A friend of mine just got back from wintering in the cultural capital of New York City, and she didn’t even know they’re turning “The Da Vinci Code” into a movie – and she works in theater. Clearly there are people operating on a higher level, and clearly I’m not one of them. Be that as it may, you can’t deny that “Entertainment Tonight,” in some ways, reflects current trends in popular culture. So when did it segue from the time-honored tradition of celebrity cleavage, to the morbidly obese? And it’s not just the obese; they had an ongoing series on these grotesquely anorexic twins awhile back. This stuff used to be the exclusive domain of the sleaziest tabloids, and now it’s inches from prime time.All of these magazine shows, from the serious ones like “60 Minutes” to the frivolous ones like “Entertainment Tonight,” must pander to the public appetite. They have advertisers; they have to get people to watch. That’s why you’ve seen about a hundred pieces on the “Da Vinci Code” so far. The serious programs act as if there’s actually a news story in there somewhere. In what sense is it news that someone’s making a movie about a totally forgettable book? I don’t know. I do know it’s forgettable because I read it, and I’ve forgotten every word. The only thing I can take away from the phenomenon is the realization of how deeply insecure the Catholic Church must be. If that institution can be so freaked out by a work of popular fiction, then the pope needs therapy. That might be news.When did the people who buy those moronic checkout-stand tabloids take control? When did the lowest common denominator get so low? Sometime during Bush’s first term? I think the phrase is dumbing down.Tonya Harding reared her ugly head during the Olympics. Sure, if you’re going to resurrect someone like that, then the Olympics would be the time to do it – but why? Hasn’t anyone done anything stupid recently? There she was, plumped up like a ballpark frank, waddling around the ice, skating down memory lane. I realize the baby boomers are steeping themselves in nostalgia nowadays, but this? Anyway, someone thought she was big news again, for about three weeks. I hope she made a few bucks, got a home makeover for the trailer. Something pretty for herself. Her former co-worker, Nancy Kerrigan, seemed to be doing all right, interviewing people for NBC, doing her best to avoid the very subject that was the only reason that Tonya was back in the limelight at all.The construction crew I worked with back in Vermont used to celebrate Joey Buttafuoco’s birthday (March 11). They’d take the day off, try to imagine what Joey might be doing. This wasn’t too difficult when he was in the can, a little harder when he was on the outside. They’d usually end up in a bar either way.I guess those guys in Vermont aren’t the only ones with an ongoing interest in Joey. He and his former girlfriend have been all over the place the last few weeks. Little Amy looked pretty good; she’d had some work done. Joey was fat and the ex-wife seemed to have more on the ball than some people I know who don’t have a bullet in their head. There was a new wife. The result was three weeks of not-so-riveting, public, family therapy.In a perfect world no one would give any of this a minute of his or her time, not even in this ratty column. The stories aren’t the point; it’s the fact that they’re being presented at all. The dumbing down of popular culture. Whether it started with the dumbest thing the American public has ever done, the election of George Bush, or whether it’s a steady decline that’s gone unnoticed for a long while, is what we should be worried about. If it’s an ongoing process, then you have to wonder how low can we go? When you look at the commander in chief, then you have to wonder if we’re already there.When you look back to the 1950s, for instance, popular culture seems naive, maybe a little silly, but naive and silly look pretty good next to downright stupid.
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